Rating: 4/5 Buckets
When BvS was first released in theaters I felt like a little kid at Christmas. That first showing could not come soon enough. I had waited and waited through all of the hype that began with the 2013 Comic Con announcement that Batman would be in the movie. Finally, the movie had arrived! AND IT WAS SO…bleh. I could tell there was a good story somewhere in there but I couldn’t pinpoint why I didn’t respond well to it. I mean I didn’t hate the movie but it was just a movie to me…nothing special. Why hadn’t a movie about my two favorite characters killed it for me?! Then the ultimate edition came out and then I loved the film. The ultimate edition ironed out many strong points in the film to include the characters (MOST IMPORTANTLY!), themes, and action.
The bedrock of any film is the characters. Great action sequences and fancy CGI are worthless if the characters aren’t compelling (aka Star Wars Episode I). BvS had some great, compelling characters in the film that brought meaning to the massive CGI fight in the third act. The main characters that stand out to me are Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Lex Luthor.
Clark Kent – Henry Cavill again did a great job conveying Clark’s character arc throughout the film. The story shows what happens when a Clark who just wants to do the right thing is shoved into the reality of politics and the media. At first Clark doesn’t care what is said about him and strives to do the right thing. He investigates the Batman out of a sense that justice is not being upheld (one of my favorite aspects of this film is seeing Clark’s investigative reporter come alive and drive the Lex Luthor and Batman plot points). However, his character changes as the movie progresses. He starts to care what the world says. At first, I didn’t like this aspect because Superman does what is right and doesn’t care what others say. His moral compass is always pointed north. But then it hit me…Superman wants to be the symbol for hope in the world. He wants to inspire the good in society. It makes sense that Clark’s foundation would shake if he saw hate result from his actions. The people turned to anger when they believed that he was responsible for destroying the courtroom building. Henry Cavill perfectly captures a Clark that is becoming detached from the world…a Clark that goes to the mountains away from everything. In the end, he finds his anchor to humanity. Lois Lane is his rock that reminds him of the good in the world. She gives him hope that people can be inspired. That is why I actually liked his death at the end. His death completed the people’s arc as well. The people, having seen his sacrifice, are now in a position to be inspired by Superman rather than hate him. They’ve seen his true character. I’m so excited to see what the next character arc will be for Superman, especially since it will be different than BvS’s dark tone. I loved the dark tone because it fit the film’s story, but the next chapter won’t need to be as dark because of the completed character arcs in BvS.
Bruce Wayne – Ok, so since pictures are worth a thousand words, let’s use 3 pictures to decompose why Ben Affleck and Zack Snyder brought the perfect Batman to the screen (minus some killing, but I’ll get to that later). I know, pictures are snapshots and don’t always demonstrate the whole film, but these ideas are consistently portrayed throughout the film.
The first picture is of Bruce at a party…wearing his “Bruce Wayne” façade. The contrast between his coy smile and fierce eyes tell the whole story. His smile comes off as a self-centered playboy that wouldn’t think twice about stabbing his friends in the back. However his eyes portray something completely different. They are fierce and piercing. The contrast highlights how the Bruce Wayne façade conceals the angry, brutal Batman underneath.
The second picture(s) is from a scene where Bruce is losing a staredown with the Batsuit. This shot is so simple but shows the history, relationship, and power of the Batman ethos. This shot basically comes down to the camera angle of the Batsuit and Ben Affleck’s eyes. The camera is looking up at the BAsuit
while slowly zooming in. Then the shot moves to a face level shot of Affleck upwards to the Batsuit while the camera slowly zooms in. It is so simple but wow is it powerful. By looking up at the Batsuit, it gives off this vibe that Bruce is in submission to the Batman. Bruce is a slave to his rage. The slow, steady zoom in on the suit and Affleck’s face builds a tension between the two. In addition, his face portrays a loathesome feeling toward the Batsuit. This demonstrates how much the Batman has cost him. There is a reason why there is a close up shot of the dead Robin shrine immediately following this sequence. The Batman cost Bruce Wayne his belief in humanity. He no longer believes that good people will stay good because even he hasn’t. This simple shot brilliantly conveys and reinforces so many aspects behind Ben Affleck’s character. I could write an essay on all the scenes (like Bruce and Alfred referring to the Bat and “Bruce Wayne” in the third person to show how Bruce is not either of them) but that would take far too long!
The third shot is awesome just because it shows a badass Batman. This guy would rip the Boogeyman in half. The Batman that I wanted to see was a fierce and fear-invoking mythical creature that beats criminals to a pulp (or death in this case), and damn did we get that.
Lex Luthor – Ahh yes, the most hated character in BvS, and for an understandable reason. He wasn’t the dominant and looming figure he was in the comics. He wasn’t the Lex Luthor from the comics at all! Or was he? I would have preferred the kind of Lex Luthor a Bryan Cranston would have delivered but I was actually okay with Jesse Eisenberg’s new take for one reason, it stayed true to the core of the character. Lex Luthor is defined by his longing for power. He hates Superman because Superman is an all-powerful god without anyone to answer to. Lex sees himself as a powerful hero of the people for standing up to Superman and defeating him (or at least that was his plan). In this film, Lex can’t stand this idea of humanity being subjected to a god. He sees knowledge without power as a practical joke that humanity will never have true power (aka, Lex’s party speech). He sees Superman as the real villain of the story while he is the hero. They execute this character in a new way (of which I’d rather see the more traditional take) but it stays true to the character.
THEMES – the themes really make this film standout because it gives this superhero tale something substantial to say.
Humanity vs. God – First, this is a BOLD theme to take on in a superhero blockbuster. If there is anything out there that will polarize an audience, it is religion. While the film doesn’t take a stance on religion per se, it does analyze the idea of a god in a dark, real world. Lex Luthor states a paradox that “God cannot be all good if he is all-powerful; and he cannot be all-powerful if he is all good.” Wow. That is a simple statement with far reaching consequences. As a Christian, I love deep, meaningful questions that challenge my beliefs. I never thought that I would spend hours critically thinking over my foundational beliefs about life as a result of a theme in a superhero blockbuster. That is why I love this film. In addition, the film portrays people as a whole that reject this god figure, not just Bruce and Lex. I love that Snyder included that because a villain like Lex is irredeemable, but when half of the population rejects this god it forces the audience to look at themselves on the issue. Finally, Lex’s actions make this theme stand out. On the rooftop, you can tell that he thoroughly enjoys seeing this god bend to his will. He loves the idea of showing to the world that he is better. That humanity doesn’t answer to a god. Chris Terio brilliantly wrote this script to fully develop this theme.
Political neutrality – Politics…probably the second theme that big blockbusters should stay away from (but I’m so glad it didn’t!). In a year like 2016, this theme couldn’t have come at a better time. BvS demonstrates just how any public act is a political act. People’s opinions can be drastically wrong and the media can shape stories to exaggerate the truth or destroy it. The people’s reaction and the media’s portrayal of Superman are a viscous loop. They feed each other. Throughout the film Superman has his supporters and his naysayers. This theme wasn’t developed much further than that but it still brought some depth to this massive blockbuster.
Redemption (aka the Martha Moment) – this might be a stretch to define as a theme but whatever, I wanted to discuss this much debated scene. Most people say that the fact that Batman learns his mom has the same name as Superman’s mom is a lame plot point to make our caped heroes friends. I would definitely agree with that statement…on my first viewing. On my second viewing I saw something much deeper take place. I saw Bruce’s redemption. Superman is lying on the ground calling out for “Martha” just like his father. Batman was standing over his prey just like his parent’s murderer did in front of the theatre. In that moment, Batman realized how far he had fallen. He had fallen to the level of criminal that inspired him to take on the Bat persona in the first place. He had become what he hated. In realizing this, he throws the spear away. As icing on the cake, he completes his redemption by saving Martha, something he wasn’t able to do as a child. This section of the film is brilliant because it perfectly portrays Clark’s character. It is the good in Superman that inspires the good in Bruce. He renews Bruce’s belief in good. That is textbook Superman! I just wish that Batman wouldn’t have killed the people in the warehouse because that would have reinforced the idea of his redemption. But let’s be honest, that warehouse scene was KILLER!
OVERALL THOUGHTS – I think the ultimate edition is much better than the theatrical for two reasons. First, the film was not choppy. The editing allowed the audience to easily transition from scene to scene and fill in some plot holes. Second (and much more importantly!), it made the end actually have an impact. The theatrical release didn’t pack a punch when Superman died because it was a Batman movie. The ultimate edition focuses on Superman’s story, which includes Batman. Seeing Clark’s complete character arc and how Batman fit into it changed the film into something truly great.